Adventures in Motorcycling: Pub Theology. Have We Kicked God out of the Bars Now?

I’ve covered about 500 miles on the bike so far and have ridden through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida in the last two days. Right now I’m hunkering down at the Key West Inn in Fairhope, Alabama. Just back from McSharry’s Irish Pub where I had a really good Sheppard’s Pie and a pint of draft Smithwicks. And for the first time in my life I experienced Pub Theology. Apparently the first Wednesday of the month they bring religion into the pub. But I don’t think this is really necessary. I would argue that at least in the southern part of the United States God has never really left the bar. He’s mentioned in just about every other sentence or at least every other conversation. Come to think of it a woman friend of mine and I were talking about Jesus just the other day in Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome, Georgia. We didn’t really come to an agreement. I thought He’d be okay with certain things that she didn’t think He’d approve of. Tonight was a bit different. It was more of a lecture by an older man who, along with others, had done some inspirational work in helping folks out. I want to acknowledge that. But frankly, a few other heathens and I decided to head for the smoking area outside.
In the southern part of the USA you can’t go far in any restaurant or bar without some kind of spiritual conversation taking place. This morning, a man singled me out at McDonalds (because of my biker gear) and spoke to me about motorcycles and Jesus. I enjoyed the conversation though I didn’t agree that Jesus had a preference for Harley engine modifications made by the Screamin Eagle Company. Yesterday, In Dothan I met up with a friend at the Waffle House and we talked about Buddhism and she gave me a Tibetan Buddhist charm for my motorcycle. Though I consider myself a Christian I acknowledge contributions and insights from other religions. On my motorcycle I have a medal from St Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcycle riders. The medal reminds me to be reverent in my travels. I also have the Taoist Yin Yang symbol on a bracelet attached to my mirror to help me remember to be balanced and to trust the journey. Now I have a Buddhist charm to remind me to stay in the here and now and to show loving kindness and compassion to everyone I meet. I also have a hula girl which is there to remind me to not take myself too seriously and to be silly sometimes.
I was in a great honky-tonk in Rome the other day; The Sports Page. It had been awhile since I listened to some country western tunes but I’m relieved to know that God is still in many of them. I managed to hear some of my old favorites and the lines: “It wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels and taught all them good girls to go wrong.” And another I remember from years ago: “One night of love don’t make up for six nights alone. But I’d rather have one than none Lord ‘cause I’m flesh and bones.”
The south in the USA is Christ Haunted so expect Him to pop up not only on Sundays and Wednesdays in the churches but also in conversations anywhere, from the gas station to the bowling alley. And definitely, definitely in bars.

The Patron Saint of Motorcycle Riders?

The Patron Saint of Motorcycle Riders?

 Who should be the patron saint of motorcyclists?There are a lot of saints in the race for this honor!

 We can start with Elijah the Prophet who was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Although a friend of mine says Elijah was taken up in Triumph! (Maybe a Triumph Trident!) Regardless, they didn’t have Harleys in those days so he had to settle for something else. But I can still picture the dude doing this! Can you? Now imagine him on a CVO Harley Road King screaming with locomotive type clout in top gear.

Another candidate is Saint Frances of Rome who was declared the patron saint of automobile drivers by Pius XI.  There was a legend that an angel used to light her way with a lantern when she traveled, keeping her safe from hazards like deer and pagans. I’m pretty sure the angel used the Hiawatha headlight from the Road King to accomplish this task. Harley Davidson themselves state: “the Harley Road King headlamp hearkens back to the Big Twins of the 60s. You get nothing less than the latest in materials and technology. Clear-lens reflector optics provide a longer distance high beam and wider low beam to light up your” …touring experience. “It’s a bright, striking daytime lamp that blasts a little further into the night.” You need a bright light on those pesky Roman roads at night.

 St Christopher was popular when I was a kid. I remember my Uncle Terence had a St Christopher medal. He was supposed to bring protection to travelers; that’s Christopher, not my uncle. I like Christopher. It’s interesting that his original name was Reprobus, which meant rejected or outcast. Sounds like a Harley rider. Apparently he was tall, strong, ugly and ambitious. The girls around the Canaan bars, a town the size of El Reno, Oklahoma, laughed at him and the guys were always trying to pick fights with the big guy. Reprobus went searching for the King of kings, and spent some time with the Devil (probably a Honda dealer). But he ended up finding Christ, who appeared as a child to him. He carried Christ across a dangerous river, without the help of any flotation device. After this Reprobus’ name was changed to Christopher, which means Christ bearer.

But in 1969 they had the reform of the Roman calendar and decided they just weren’t too sure about the veracity of the stories about Saint Christopher and demoted him somewhat.

Still he is a widely popular multi-talented saint who’s apparently also revered by athletes, mariners, ferrymen, all travelers-protecting them better than Allstate insurance against lightning and pestilence. He’s also popular with archers, bachelors (??) boatmen, soldiers, bookbinders, folks with epilepsy, fruit dealers, gardeners,  surfers, and, believe it or not, people suffering from toothache. That’s one multipurpose saint! Surely he should be in the running for the patron saint of motorcycles?

 Another nomination for the honor goes to Sebastian de Aparicio y del Pardo. A Mexican road builder in the 1500’s he was considered one of the first Mexican “cowboys” or “charros”. I know, he’s sounding really good. He went into the transportation business and helped build over 600 miles of roads in Mexico. Then he gave all his money away, became a friar and he traveled these highways as an itinerant beggar, monk and peripatetic teacher. He drove a two oxen powered cart (Maybe 50cc’s) and lived on the road for days, sleeping on the ground under his cart in bad weather. Though he never got much out of second gear people loved him for his simplicity and Christ-like ways. Apparently, he always said: Guárdeos Dios, hermanos! (May God keep you, brothers!). If that ain’t a Harley salute I don’t know what is.

Okay, the final contestant for the honor of Patron Saint of Motorcyclists is (cue the trumpets!)  St. Columbanus of Bobbio. Despite the Italian ‘Bobbio’, this guy was an Irish dude! What a surprise! (You knew I had to sneak Celtic Christianity in here somewhere!) During the dark ages when the Irish were saving civilization and Christianity he ventured away from Ireland wandering up and down Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries, starting monasteries and spreading the word about Christ.

But who was this man? How do we know he was Irish? Apparently what cinches it is that that we know he lived at home with his mother into his 30’s, he wasn’t married, and he didn’t have a job. Ha ha!

Unusually, he was tall and good looking and the girls chased him (I can relate to that except for the tall bit, and the good looking part and…). He was also a bit of a rogue, as they say. A holy woman put the fear of God in him and he decided to change his ways. When he decided to become a priest his mother tried to block the door physically with her body, but he just stepped over her, signed up and got his traveling orders. He traveled throughout Europe to Germany and Switzerland and ended up living in decadent France for 20 years, establishing three monasteries there before he moved to Italy. He carried his Celtic Christian ideas and practices with him and was always riling up “the Man” (the Popes and Bishops).

He lived in a cave for years, was very pious and is said to have wrestled a bear. But unlike Davy Crockett he didn’t kill it; instead he tamed it and yoked it to a plow.

He is quoted as having said, “Love is not orderly.” You gotta love this guy!

Miracles credited to Columbanus include:

Once after being surrounded by wolves, he simply walked through them

When he needed a cave for his solitary prayers and a bear lived there he asked politely for the bear to skedaddle and he did.  

When the Luxeuil Abbey granary ran empty, Columbanus prayed over it and it refilled.

He cured several sick monks and gave sight to a blind man at Orleans

But my favorite is that he multiplied bread and beer for his community. We’re talking about craft, micro-brewed beer here! Bikers love their happy, hoppy beer!

If Columbanus were alive today I imagine him riding a Harley Fat Boy. The Fat Boy is a living legend. Arnold Schwarzenegger rode one in ”Terminator 2”. It’s got a 1,584cc pushrod V-twin engine, six gears, massive torque and you’ve got to love those shotgun-style tailpipes. It’s nimble, has no saddlebags and is perfect for itinerant monks flying around on those twisty heathen roads in Europe. Combine all this with Christianity and you can’t be beat! Love and a Fat Boy can conquer all!  

 And the winner is?!

 Well it’s really up to you to choose your saint, from among these or others.

But I will tell you though that the Vatican has endorsed the Irish saint Columbanus as the official Patron Saint of Motorcyclists! And, another supreme authority, the Harley Davidson company has produced a medal recognizing St. Columbanus as the Patron Saint of Motorcyclists. What more authoritative endorsements could you ask for?  

Monk Jonas wrote about Columbanus in the seventh century

 A while after, Columbanus went to the monastery of Fontaines and found sixty brethren hoeing the ground and preparing the fields for the future crop. When he saw them breaking up the clods with great labor, he said, “May the Lord prepare for you a feast, my brethren.” Hearing this the attendant said, “Father, believe me, we have only two loaves and a very little beer.” Columbanus answered, “Go and bring those.” The attendant went quickly and brought the two loaves and a little beer. Columbanus, raising his eyes to heaven, said, “Christ Jesus, only hope of the world, do Thou, who from five loaves satisfied five thousand men in the wilderness, multiply these loaves and this drink.” Wonderful faith! All were satisfied and each one drank as much as he wished. The servant carried back twice as much in fragments and twice the amount of drink. And so he knew that faith is more deserving of the divine gifts than despair, which is wont to diminish even what one has.

His Feast day is the 23rd November

May he always help us keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.